Are you Likely to Respond to Exercise?

By  Gretchen Reynolds, First Posted on New York Times Health, October 10, 2o12

Research has confirmed that people’s physiological responses to exercise vary wildly. Now a new genetic test promises to tell you whether you are likely to benefit aerobically from exercise. The science behind the test is promising, but is this information any of us really needs to know?

The new test, which is being sold by a British company called XRGenomics, is available to anyone through the company’s Web site and involves rubbing inside your cheek with a supplied swab and returning the tissue sample to the company. Results are then available within a few weeks. It is based on a body of research led by James Timmons, a professor of systems biology at Loughborough University in England, and colleagues at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana and other institutions.

That original research, published in a landmark 2010 study, looked into the genetics of why some people respond to endurance exercise so robustly, while others do not. Some lucky men and women take up jogging, for example, and quickly become much more aerobically fit. Others complete the same program and develop little if any additional endurance, as measured by increases in their VO12 max, or their body’s ability to consume and distribute oxygen to laboring muscles.

For the 2010 study, Dr. Timmons and his colleagues genotyped muscle tissue from several groups of volunteers who had completed 6 to 20 weeks of endurance training. They found that about 30 variations in how genes were expressed had a significant effect on how fit people became. The new test looks for those genetic markers in people’s DNA.

“The idea is to help people to understand why” they might be progressing more slowly in an exercise program than their training partners are, says Dr. Timmons, one of the founders of XRGenomics.

After he appeared on a BBC science program last year, in the course of which the host was revealed to be a “low” responder, according to his gene profile, Dr. Timmons was inundated with e-mails and calls requesting the test, he says. At that point, he and several colleagues filed a patent (still pending) for the gene markers and brought the test to market.

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